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Obama Plays Offense in Las Vegas, Says Republicans ‘Can’t Help Themselves’

Given new fodder from Republican leadership, the former president campaigned hard on one of his signature accomplishments.

Gideon Resnick10.22.18 8:25 PM ET

LAS VEGAS—America’s last president Friday issued a thundering address that was as much a critique of current Republican leadership as it was a defense of his own accomplishments.

Before a crowd of about 2,000 at the Cox Pavilion, nestled in the heart of UNLV’s campus, Obama spoke about why they should vote for a slate of Democratic candidates running in close Nevada races, including Senate candidate Jacky Rosen and gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak. And he mounted a strong defense of the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare has become a driving force of Democratic efforts in the midterms. What had been an albatross in the last midterm cycle, when Democrats suffered crippling losses nationwide, has turned into a call to arms with two weeks left until election day.

“This is like a reflex with these guys. They just can’t help themselves,” Obama said of Republican efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. “Now that it’s election season, they are out there saying: ‘Well, actually we’re going to protect people with pre-existing conditions.’”

“Now let me say something as the person who actually passed the law that prevents people with pre-existing conditions from being discriminated against: I can tell you that they have no way of protecting pre-existing conditions with anything that they have proposed. They’re just saying it. They’re just making it up.”

Obama was referring to Republican candidates nationwide who, despite previous votes to end the ACA or support for a Texas lawsuit targeting it, now promise they would protect individuals with pre-existing conditions.

“If Republicans keep Congress this fall, you better believe they’re coming after health care again,” Obama warned.

He also referred to comments Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made in a Bloomberg interview last week, in which the Senate Majority Leader blamed federal deficits on a political unwillingness to change Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Democrats immediately interpreted his comments as a suggestion that a Republican-led Congress would go after these popular programs as McConnell attempted to clarify his remarks, saying that those programs are merely “drivers of the debt,” and that “the only way that can ever be addressed is on a bipartisan basis.”

Democrats weren’t buying that.

“The leader of the Republicans in Congress—just now, Mitch McConnell says ‘well suddenly now that he’s passed the $1.5 trillion tax cut he says, these deficits are a big problem,’” Obama told the raucous Vegas crowd. “And to bring them down we’re going to have to cut programs like Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.”

“If you believe that folks like me need a tax cut and folks like your grandma needs a cut in her Social Security, then you’re right, you should just sit home and not vote,” he continued.

While the stated purpose of the rally, which featured performances by Salt-n-Pepa and J Balvin that threatened to knock UNLV banners to the gym floor, was to drum up support for early voting in Nevada, which began on Saturday, it also had the feeling of a nostalgic party for Democrats missing their former commander-in-chief. Some in attendance wore his face on t-shirts and hats with “44” on them.

Marc Fineman, a 73-year-old Nevada resident, planned to vote for Rosen and the remainder of the Democratic ticket this week, even without Obama’s urging, but came out to the event because he had never seen the former president in the flesh.

“I didn’t even know about this rally,” he told The Daily Beast, saying that a Democratic phone bank he worked for had tickets. “I’d never seen him live. Big fan, so I’m here.”

When Katherine James, a 79-year-old former banker was asked what led her to come out on Monday, she laughed and said “Are you kidding?”

[embed tweet: https://twitter.com/GideonResnick/status/1054468096084238336]

Wearing a “Ur Fired 2020.com” hat mocked up to look like a MAGA one and an Obama t-shirt, James said that she and her husband had already voted but she said that the Democratic party overall need to be “little tougher.”

“We gotta fight fire with fire,” James told The Daily Beast. “We always were gracious. I think maybe we need to change that and be a little more aggressive. Because that’s the only thing the Republicans understand.”

Asked about the famous advice that “when they go low, we go high” from the wife of the man she was about to see, James said “I love Michelle but that’s not going to get it with this administration.”